Can baseball teams ever have too much of a good thing? The Texas Rangers might have once.
Because they were confident that Juan Gonzalez was going to blossom into a superstar, the Rangers reluctantly agreed to trade one of his minor-league teammates, Sammy Sosa.Many within the organization knew instantly that they would have to live with years of regret for trading Sosa (along with Wilson Alvarez and Scott Fletcher) to the White Sox for Harold Baines. Sosa's potential was undeniable even then. But you could have received long odds that they would ever both win Most Valuable Player awards in the same season.
That should happen this year. The Cubs' Sosa could be a runaway choice in the National League. The Rangers' Gonzalez has been the most dominant player on a division winner in his league.
Sosa and Gonzalez entered the weekend with a combined 110 homers and 313 runs batted in. Yes, they've grown up since 1987. That year Sosa and Gonzalez combined for 25 homers in a full season with Gastonia in the Class A South Atlantic League.
Dean Palmer, another member of that team, had only nine home runs. It takes time for power hitters to develop.
"He was a five-tool player," former Rangers General Manager Tom Grieve said of Sosa. "You could see that when he was 17. I don't think there was any doubt he was going to become a big-leaguer. But I don't think anyone projected he was going to become a great power hitter. You never project anyone's going to hit 60 (homers), but we thought maybe he was a guy who could hit 25-30."
Grieve credits former White Sox GM Larry Himes for being firm in his demand for either Gonzalez or Sosa in the Baines package. The deal was eventually made on July 29, 1989, when the Oakland A's were already pulling away from the Rangers in the AL West race. Texas finished in fourth place, 16 games behind Oakland.
The one-sided trade would be Grieve's legacy, but it has not stopped him from enjoying Sosa's historic season.
"I've always rooted for Sammy," Grieve said. "He's such a great kid. As much as I like Sammy, as much confidence as I have in him, the way he has handled everything this year has still been almost unbelievable. When you factor in that he's a Dominican handling situations that American players can't handle, it is so impressive.
"He's handled this whole thing as well as any American sports hero ever handled anything. He's been gracious, humorous, accessible, witty, bright. Every time he's on TV, I find myself saying, `If I could have written what I want him to say, it's coming out of his mouth.' I don't know how he's learned to do this."
If we had a vote, we would vote Sosa first in the National League MVP race, followed by St. Louis' Mark McGwire, Houston's Craig Biggio, San Diego's Trevor Hoffman and Houston's Moises Alou. In the American League, we'd make it Gonzalez, Boston's Nomar Garciaparra and Seattle's Alex Rodriguez.
The other awards:
- Cy Young - In the NL, San Diego's Kevin Brown followed by Atlanta's Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine (who received half a run per game more support than Maddux and seven-tenths of a run more support than Brown). In the AL, Toronto's Roger Clemens followed by Boston's Pedro Martinez and New York's David Wells.
- Rookie - In the NL, the Cubs' Kerry Wood followed by Colorado's Todd Helton and Atlanta's Kerry Ligtenberg. In the AL, Oakland's Ben Grieve followed by the White Sox's Mike Caruso, New York's Orlando Hernandez and Tampa Bay's Rolando Arrojo.
- Manager - In the NL, the Cubs' Jim Riggleman, Houston's Larry Dierker and Atlanta's Bobby Cox. In the AL, New York Joe Torre followed by Boston's Jimy Williams and the White Sox's Jerry Manuel.
IRONMAN ITEM I: Now that Cal Ripken Jr.'s streak has ended after 2,632 games, Baltimore manager Ray Miller projects the 38-year-old third baseman will play 145 to 150 games next year. Ripken isn't offended by that mortal total, but says he'll be ready to go the distance.
"I've never been close-minded to the concept of an off day if I wasn't contributing for whatever reason," Ripken said. "If it goes in that direction and plays out that way, so be it. But I'm going to continue coming to the ballpark with the same exact attitude."
IRONMAN ITEM II: Ripken's streak is more mind-boggling to most players than the home run assault by Sosa and Mark McGwire. "It's the only record I can honestly say that never will be broken," Pittsburgh first baseman Kevin Young said. "I know my mama always said to never say never, but this time I'm saving never."
Look at it this way. Albert Belle, whose streak of 332 consecutive games played through Friday is the longest in the majors, would have to play every game until he is 46 years old. Among youngsters with current streaks, the Rockies' Neifi Perez (229 entering the weekend) could get there by the time he's 38.
IRONMAN ITEM III: Houston second baseman Craig Biggio was second to Ripken until manager Larry Dierker held him out of a game at Florida on Aug. 5. Biggio was upset, and Dierker took the rap by saying he forgot he was available to pinch hit.
But was Dierker being dumb like a fox? Few people even noticed when Dierker rested Biggio Monday night in St. Louis, letting him catch his breath for the postseason. After playing 162 games last year, Biggio went 1 for 12 as Atlanta swept the Astros in the division series.
TOUCHING THE BASES: Phillies outfielder Ruben Amaro, who will move into an assistant general manager's job after the season, drove in a run Tuesday. "Everybody was saying, `Good job, sir,' when he got back to the dugout," manager Terry Francona said . . . Reds manager Jack McKeon revealed last week that he received death threats before facing St. Louis with Mark McGwire sitting on 59 homers. Reds pitchers had walked McGwire 11 times in six games, but walked him only twice in those three games.